Celebrating Leicester’s live music heritage as Radio 2 comes to town

While some of pop’s biggest names will be descending on Leicester this weekend for Radio 2 In The Park, it’s not the first time some of them have graced a stage within the LE1 postcode.

Saturday and Sunday will see thousands of music fans flock to Victoria Park to see the likes of Kylie, Simply Red and The Pretenders strut their stuff in the city’s leafiest live music location.

While the park will be the centre of Radio 2 listeners’ attention over the two days, it’s worth remembering the musical heritage that’s been cultivated next door at the University of Leicester since the 1960s.

Of the acts playing In The Park, four have previously performed at the Students’ Union’s Percy Gee building – which is currently branded the 02 Academy Leicester.

Bragging rights belong to Chrissie Hynde and her Pretenders, who played the union twice 43 years ago – in February and December 1980. The British-American band’s first appearance came a couple of months after they released their eponymous debut album, which spawned the classic singles Brass in Pocket and the Ray Davies-penned Stop Your Sobbing.

Glaswegian pop rockers, Deacon Blue, played the Percy Gee just the once, in October 1988, in the wake of their classic debut album, Raintown. The following year, they’d be selling out arenas following the release of their number one LP, When The World Knows Your Name.

Fellow Scots, Texas, came to the University in November 1993, in support of third album, Rick’s Road.

Finally, in April 2017, Shalamar were on campus – a full 40 years after the American R&B and soul music group were founded.

This information comes from Mike Simpson, the University’s Content Editor, who has spent the past decade compiling a giant list of all the artists who have played at the University (PDF, 3MB) since the 1960s, including images of posters and tickets.

Other big names on Mike’s list include The Rolling Stones, Arctic Monkeys (who played a secret gig in 2007), The Stone Roses, Led Zeppelin (twice), The Who (twice), Elton John, Lou Reed, Queen (twice, and featuring local boy John Deacon), Talking Heads, REM, Dire Straits (three times), Pulp (three times) Iron Maiden (twice), Blur (three times), Radiohead (four times), Pixies, Blondie, Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode. Meanwhile, 1980s pop giants, Duran Duran, chose Leicester for two world tour warm-up gigs, in 2022.

“Generations of Leicester students have enjoyed some incredible gigs,” said Mike. “Imagine catching James and the Happy Mondays on the same bill in 1988, or Catatonia supporting the Manic Street Preachers in 1996. Personally, if I could step back in time – as Kylie suggests – I would definitely travel to 26 January 1978 to see Talking Heads supported by an unknown London band called Dire Straits!”